Varying the level of inquiry in the science classroom

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Discussing the Topic

I am interested in creating a course designed to help science teachers better understand what inquiry is and how various levels of it can be used in lab activities. In my undergraduate experience, we learned a lot about inquiry methods but rarely did we experience them in our science coursework. It can be such a general term that I feel it needs more definition in order to be successfully implemented into a science course of secondary level. National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) encourage all science teachers to use inquiry in their teaching but with so many educational resources available, how can a teacher made an educated decision about which experiments to incorporate into class? (Bretz and Fay, 2008) I think that by having a better understanding of the various levels at which inquiry can occur, the and ways to evaluate it, teachers can make a more informed decision about how and when to incorporate it into their classrooms.

Needs Assessment

Instructional Problem

The need for professional development programs for secondary school (particularly science) instructors who may not feel comfortable or have the knowledge/skills to successfully implement an inquiry based lesson or activity. Many beginning teachers have not experienced inquiry as learners and may find it difficult to implement in their own classrooms (Bretz & Fay, 2008). There needs to be a way to define whether or not something is considered inquiry and what level of inquiry is appropriate.

The nature of what is to be learned

Instructors will

  • learn what qualities/features make an activity/lab 'inquiry based'
  • learn how to effectively vary the level of inquiry involved in science lab activities

About the Learners

Participants are middle and high school level science teachers currently teaching in a classroom; the focus is on new teachers (1-5 years) but the course can benefit a teacher of any amount of experience. The disciplines vary within science...from Biology and Environmental Science to 7th grade general science. They are experienced with the topic they teach and are motivated both intrinsically and externally to gain a better understanding of how to use inquiry. Teachers also maintain a similar learning environment in their classroom where students are generally engaged in their learning and teachers vary the methods in which students learn. Participants have done labs and activities in their class in which they feel they can apply to this course and have brought them to the learning experience. These will be used throughout the course.

Instructional Content

This case study will show teachers how to implement inquiry based lessons/activities into a classroom setting. Each unit will help teachers gain a better understanding of what qualifies something as inquiry, why it is important, and how to design a lesson steeped in inquiry. Each unit will be designed in a similar fashion and will begin with an overview, clearly stated objectives and time for reflection at the end. Teachers will participate in activities and will evaluate their own activities/lessons and see how they can rework them to better fit the goals of these units. Essentially teachers will learn what inquiry is, what makes a lesson inquiry related, and design a lesson that is related to inquiry.

Performance Objectives

  • identify what it means for a lesson or activity to be considered inquiry based learning
  • determine the level of inquiry done in an individual lesson/activity
  • using a classification rubric and knowledge about inquiry, participants will be able to design an inquiry based lesson plan or activity/lab to implement into their classroom
  • execute an inquiry based lesson (varying in level of inquiry involved) in their classroom

Task Analysis

Course Purpose

Upon completion of this course, participants (teachers) will have gained a better understanding of what inquiry based learning is and how it can benefit their classroom; they will also be able to confidently design and implement an inquiry based lesson or activity into their classroom.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this course, teachers will be able to:

  • State what inquiry based learning is and the different levels it can occur at
  • Explain how inquiry based learning can be effective in the science classroom
  • design an inquiry based lesson using their knowledge about varying levels of inquiry
  • execute an inquiry based lesson in a classroom

Essential Prerequisites

  • current understanding about inquiry and the different levels it can occur at
  • what components of inquiry based learning are
  • ability to apply concepts of inquiry based learning to current teaching style/practices

Supportive Prerequisites

  • how to write and organize a lesson plan
  • drive to incorporate inquiry into the classroom
  • how to create and utilize a rubric
  • how to assess students' learning

Curriculum Map

File:Curriculum MAP.doc

**Course:** Varying the Level of Inquiry in Science Lab Activities


Bretz, Stacey L., & Fay, Michael E. 2008. Structuring the level of inquiry in your classroom. The Science Teacher; Summer 2008.

National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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